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Lathe Operations. ACCT-MOI-6. By: Amber Rolader, 2011. Parts of a Wood Lathe. Modern Woodworking Lathe. Safety Precautions. Lathe Operations. Machine tools, even small ones, do not take prisoners. Learn from others’ past mistakes. ·    Never, ever, leave a chuck key in a chuck.

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lathe operations

Lathe Operations


By: Amber Rolader, 2011

safety precautions

Safety Precautions

Lathe Operations


Machine tools, even small ones, do not take prisoners.

Learn from others’ past mistakes.

·    Never, ever, leave a chuck key in a chuck.

·    Lathes - and especially some milling machines - are very top heavy. Take care when moving them round the workshop, and don't do it alone.

·    Moving a machine? Take off rings and other jewelry. A friend was pulled over and his hand badly mangled by a toppling machine when the sharp edge of a tool-post bolt caught his wedding ring.

·    Keep a clear, safe and oil-free working area around your machine tools. You must be able to think of better things to do than tripping, slipping or falling onto a rotating cutter or mechanism.

·    Wear snug-fitting, tightly woven clothes and remove anything that might get wound into rotating mechanisms.

·    Wear eye protection.


·    If you don’t how it works, read the instruction manual.

·    After setting up any turning job, take a moment to pull the job round by hand to check that everything clears.

·    Remember, you are using a machine tool - an expensive, precision device. Keep it clean and oiled - and don't abuse it.

·    Keep the machine and area clean. 

·    Lubricate plain headstock bearings with light oil - little and frequently. Adjustable-drip oil pots (as fitted to Myford ML7 lathes, etc.) may look old-fashioned, but you can see exactly what is happening - and they are completely effective.

·    If your lathe headstock has an oil supply held in reservoirs under the bearings, with wick or other feed - check the level every day.

·    Small lathes need all the help they can get. The secret of successful operation is to keep the cutting tools sharp by using a slip stone across the top surface; the sides rarely need attention.

made with a lathe
Made with a Lathe

Turned Chess Pieces

tips tricks

Tips & Tricks

Lathe Operations


Keep as much of the tool supported by its clamp or holder as possible.

    • This reduces strain on the lathe and the tendency for the cutting tool to “chatter”.
  • Check that the top slide is not unnecessarily forward; keep the cutting tool as near to the center of the compound slide assembly as possible.

When taking a cut with one slide, for the best finish, lock the others (top slide, cross slide and carriage).

  • On anything other than short, light jobs always use the tailstock center to support the work-piece end.
    • This both reduces headstock bearings loads and eases those forces that will, in time, make your 3-jaw chuck inaccurate.

Use a 4-jaw chuck to grip irregular or roughly finished material - using your 3-jaw like a bench vice will ruin it.

  • If you find a 4-jaw independent chuck difficult to set up, persevere - it quickly becomes easier with practice.
    • It helps to use a magnetic base and a good-quality dial-test indicator.

Before inserting a center in either the headstock or tailstock, clean out the taper carefully (and center) first.

The headstock center is soft and the tailstock center is hard – but there is no harm in using a hard center in either.

The soft headstock center can be trued-up by being turned in position with the top slide; when this has been done make a small corresponding mark on both the center and spindle nose so they can always be put back together in the same position.


Do not mesh change wheels tightly; some clearance between them is necessary.

    • Insert a sheet of newspaper between them and press into mesh - this gives the approximate clearance needed.
    • Lubricate with a dry "open-gear" lubricant, or thick oil.
    • Avoid grease, it can stick and create a mess.
  • Occasionally, dismantle the train of gears to the lead screw and clean the gear teeth.
    • Accumulated swarf beds into them and may need picking out with a scriber.

On small lathes parting-off operations are likely to cause the greatest trouble. 

    • Using a rear-mounted tool-post, in conjunction with an inverted tool, is the best solution.
  • Heavy-duty drilling with a tailstock chuck? 
    • Go round the chuck and use the key in all three positions - it may tighten a little more each time.

When truing up a lathe faceplate, place your centers in the headstock and tailstock spindles. 

    • Place a metal rod, center-drilled at each end, between the centers and apply pressure with the tailstock wheel, as though you were setting up to turn between centers.
    • Lock up the tailstock. The thrust created will remove any slight endplay in the headstock bearing that, if not removed, would result in a “wavy” surface finish.
    • This idea also works when facing off work bolted to the faceplate - if physically possible to set up.

Machining titanium or magnesium? 

    • Both can ignite and then burn with great intensity.
    • Use a constant flow of coolant and keep the accumulation of turnings to a minimum.
    • If the material does catch fire don’t use water as an extinguisher, it will make matters much worse.
    • Get a large bucket and fill it with dry sand. Cover it and keep it by the lathe.
    • The sand will smother the flames very effectively - or buy one of the special fire retardants used in industry.
works cited
Works Cited
  • All pictures are from
    • All picture files are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (you are free to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work)
  • “Safety Precautions” and “Tips & Tricks” taken from One Hundred and Fifty Years of “How to Use a Lathe” books
    • “Hints & Tips for Using a Lathe”